Sea Ranger 8500

From small-town beginnings in Havelock, Newman Marine's Sea Ranger 8500 makes a splash in Alaska.

Sea Ranger 8500
Sea Ranger 8500

Sea Ranger boats are a relatively small player in the competitive and rapidly expanding aluminium trailer boat market. Designed by Peter Newman, principal of Havelock-based Newman Marine, the Sea Ranger brand first popped up on the horizon in 1992 in the form of a custom-built 6.8m enclosed hardtop design. The enclosed hardtop was something of a departure from popular designs of the time and attracted plenty of comment among Marlborough boaties. The boat was Newman's first foray into design and it became well known on the waters of Pelorus Sound and Cook Strait. Newman had recently moved to Havelock from Christchurch where he was an engineer and draftsman, two disciplines well suited to powerboat design. Like many small manufacturers, it was only a matter of months before a mate of a mate spied Newman's boat and placed an order. It was the beginning of bigger things.

Ten years and 80 boats later and Sea Ranger has a secure footing in a niche market, producing rugged, custom-built designs for commercial and recreational applications. The company is now turning out around six to eight boats a year, ranging from 5.8m to 9.0m, with larger commercial designs on Newman's desk. Sea Ranger hulls are manufactured by Havelock-based Pelorus Marine, which is literally a stone's throw from Newman's marine business on Havelock's main drag. The aluminium plate for Sea Ranger hulls is computer-cut at Nelson by Nalder and Biddle and delivered ready for fabrication. Every Sea Ranger is built to Maritime Safety Authority (MSA) survey standards and each hull stamped accordingly.

Newman's latest project, the Sea Ranger 8500, is one of two boats built for export to Alaska. The second boat for export is a Sea Ranger 7m. Both vessels will be privately owned and operated and predominantly used for fishing and exploring the coast and inland waterways of Homer, south of Anchorage.

The Sea Ranger 8500 is a new walk-around model with a semi-enclosed hardtop and a small cuddy cabin forward. The boat was designed to meet the specific needs of the client and the climate, which, at 60 degrees north, can be inhospitable in the northern winter months.

One of the most striking features of the 8500 is the generous width of the walk-around deck. As Newman says, a walk-around deck should be just that: a deck for walking around - not a narrow gangway that requires great balance or poise when moving around the boat. Newman says the owners were very clear about one thing - safety.

"Because of the climate and frigid water temperatures in Alaska, they wanted a fully enclosed high-sided deck and cockpit, going so far as to opt against a walk through stern. With a young family, the owners were particular about eliminating any risk of losing anything or anybody over the side."

That requirement had a bearing on the overall look and feel of the boat with its wide, high cockpit combings and flat cabin top design. Strength was also paramount and this is evident throughout the entire boat with almost every fitting welded into place.

The 8500 is a rugged boat by anyone's measure, with a 5mm aluminium plate hull and 4mm topsides. The hull carries a 60/10 keel bar with fully welded plate frames at 1m intervals. It is further stiffened by four welded stringers on each side, which makes the boat virtually indestructible. A 290-litre aluminium fuel tank is then fitted between the frames. T-section stringers are welded to the frames onto which the chequer plate aluminium sole is welded, giving a completely watertight hull. The cockpit is self-draining with scuppers placed on the port and starboard sides of the transom. The hull carries no bilge pumps. The emphasis on strength is further evident by the boat's substantial 20mm aluminium engine bracket welded to the portofino stern.

Newman agrees the boat looks distinctly aluminium with weld lines evident on the topsides and cabin top. But he makes no apology for that.

"We describe our boats as the four-wheel drives of the sea. We don't hide our strength by grinding off and weakening our welds or screwing bits on when they can be welded. Our boats are built to last and perform in the worst conditions."

While the Sea Ranger 8500 may not have the same degree of cosmetic finish as some other brands, it is still a good looking boat with a well proportioned hardtop and angled-back tinted TMS safety glass windscreen and Nyalic-finished hull.

The boat's accommodation is simple and practical with twin V berths in the cuddy cabin, which provides reasonable sitting headroom. Under-bunk storage has been sacrificed in the interest of safety with sealed buoyancy tanks. The cabin is nicely upholstered and lined and has easy access from the hardtop. A small polycarbonate window is fitted each side for natural lighting but there is no overhead hatch. A gas heater, essential in northern winters, has been strategically placed low down in the hardtop to distribute warm air to both the cabin and the hardtop.

The hardtop itself has seating for the driver and a passenger with upholstered half-back seats set on top aluminium plinths with good storage underneath. It is fully enclosed on the sides with sliding windows and has half-size bulkheads at the rear that provide the back for two aft-facing seats. These seats also have storage underneath.

The squab on the port aft side fits neatly over a combined two-burner stove and sink, while the squab on the starboard side lifts off to give top access to the storage bin. The hardtop is fully lined throughout and has generous grab rails welded right around the rear. Headroom is in excess of 6ft2in.

The cockpit is optimised for fishing or diving with deep rod shelves running the full length of the cockpit. The boats are supplied with three welded rod holders and a bolt-on bait board that can be removed when not in use. The boats also come with a welded rocket launcher across the rear of the hardtop. In this case, however, the launcher was sacrificed in favour of a roof rack for carrying kayaks. The cockpit combings are about 750mm high and 190mm wide, tapering off as they near the bow. The 8500's welded aluminium bow rail is a solid piece of engineering, providing sure support for those working the side decks or the bow. Anchoring is also straightforward with a generous anchor locker welded into the bow with a Maxwell Freedom 500 winch providing muscle when required.

The test boat was fitted with a new Yamaha 225 horsepower four-stroke engine, but is designed to accommodate an inboard diesel engine and stern leg for commercial operations.

The 8500 hull has a relatively fine entry and a variable 18 degree deadrise at the transom. It has a pronounced 200mm wide flat chine that tapers away as it nears the bow. Newman does not fit trim tabs to his boats. He argues that the flat chines make tabs unnecessary, even in strong crosswinds.

"The boat will lean slightly until the chine meets the water. It won't go any further. There's not enough in it to warrant the addition of tabs. The chine also means the boat is naturally stable at anchor."

The head of Pelorus Sound is well protected and test day could hardly be described as testing, despite a strong cold wind whistling down the valleys and whipping up a chop in the more exposed bays. We were grateful for the hardtop. The Yamaha was quiet and purposeful as we dodged our way in and out of the mussel farms that litter the banks of the upper Pelorus. At something over 2200kg, the Sea Ranger 8500 is not a light boat, but it proved nimble and responsive, lifting easily to the plane with minimum effort and fuel. The flat chines did their job well as the gusts found the hardtop, leaning the boat over marginally until positive buoyancy gained the upper hand. It took some getting used to and owners familiar with trim tab operation might choose to fit them as an optional extra. The hull was superbly quiet, thanks largely to the fully welded sole and cabin lining, which together suppressed even the most aggressive slap from a passing mussel boat. The hydraulic steering made manoeuvring a breeze, even at low revs with the motor trimmed well in. While the boat suits cruising, it has enough get up and go to cater for most activities and recorded a respectable 40mph at 5900rpm. The hardtop is cosy and secure with good all-round visibility and lots to hold onto when the going gets rough. It would not be hard to imagine what life might be like deep in the Alaskan fiords with the heater on and the kettle singing on the stove. Newman prides himself on producing genuine custom-built boats that will go the distance and the Sea Ranger 8500 is evidence of that. The boat is a genuine walk-around and is particularly well-suited to commercial diving, fishing or eco-tourism ventures where maximum deck space is required in a road-legal package. Newman says he has not actively marketed his designs, relying largely on word of mouth to keep the orders rolling in. This has allowed him to divide his time equally between boat building and running his marine shop and outboard franchise. But that is slowly changing as word gets out that there's more to Havelock than mussels.

Words and photos: Steve Raea.

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